Immigration Lobbyist Skewered in 'Casino Jack' Movie

By David North on May 5, 2010

How often does a nefarious immigration lobbyist get featured in a movie?

Not often, but the exception, Jack Abramoff, plays the lead role in an about-to-be released documentary, "Casino Jack and the United States of Money," shown in a preview last night on the campus of George Washington University, here in the District of Columbia.

Truth to tell, the movie is more about greed, corruption, and the decline of political morality than about immigration policy. But there was a solid and damning segment of eight to ten minutes showing how Abramoff conspired with his allies (among them former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX) and a governor of the U.S.-owned Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or CNMI) to perpetuate the Saipan sweatshops. (For more on the immigration situation in the CNMI, see here and here.)

Full disclosure: in the late nineties I was a publicist for the little office in the U.S. Department of the Interior that was supporting the Clinton Administration's efforts to transfer immigration policy from the hands of the CNMI authorities back to the U.S. government, where it belonged. I do not view Abramoff dispassionately.

My experience with the movie last night was marred by the overly loud sound system at the university; hopefully when it is released commercially Friday, that problem will be resolved. (It can be seen in the D.C. area at the E Street Cinema and, presumably, at other, as they say, "selected locations" around the nation.)

Documentaries are, by their nature, quilts rather than seamless garments; they must be collections of images, including old footage and new commentary, and "Casino Jack" is no exception. Abramoff is shown as the head of the College Republicans, which he moved to the far right; as an ally of a murderous African rebel leader in Angola; and above all else, as the con man who took scores of millions from several casino-operating Indian tribes.

The presentation is thus a bit jerky, and for my taste a bit too colorful, but as a significant comment on a grim aspect of American politics, it is not to be missed.

That said, movies are not the best vehicles for describing complex situations. As far as I was concerned, one of the worst parts of the Saipan sweatshops was that the Asian owners of the factories forced their (largely young) workforce into illegal abortions when they became pregnant; the options were illegal-alien status in these islands, or a forced return to China, where an abortion probably waited. I have no objection to volunteer abortions, but the decision should be made by the woman involved, not the factory manager.

That abortions were, and are, illegal in Saipan relates to the odd legal fact that Roe V. Wade never was implemented there. That the women were forced into illegal abortions related to the fact that the local immigration policy automatically forced a foreign worker into illegal status were she to be fired by a factory, and pregnant women were usually fired. The movie made only a passing reference to this problem.

Further, this is a movie written from the Left, and that part of the political population really cannot handle the concept that an indigenous population might be misbehaving, by Western standards. The immigration problem in the Marianas, never mentioned in this flick, was that the decisions were made by the local Chamorro politicians (the dominant ethnic group in the CNMI), who did not, shall we say, have Civil Rights Era concepts of human equality. They never had second thoughts about putting Chinese women in sweatshops behind razor-wire fences. (I saw them during my work assignments in the islands.)

Similarly, the movie does not mention the odd ethical position of the Indian tribes running the casinos – that they were, to some extent, helping their own people while exploiting the gambling weakness of members of the wider population. In the movie the Indian leaders are shown as little more than dupes; not as managers who moved tens of millions of dollars from the pockets of their people to the pockets of Abramoff and his allies.

Nevertheless, a highly useful movie.